Amusement parks are supposed to be places for fun, where the whole family can enjoy themselves, and while that may certainly be true at the best of times, it certainly seems that these places sure can be some of the creepiest around in death. There just seems to be a certain, palpable sense of dread inspired by abandoned amusement parks. Maybe its the juxtaposition between the once bright smiling faces of the past now faded and contrasting with the feral, overgrown tangles of brush and hulks of long dead, forgotten machinery presently scattered about that strikes a chord of unease in us. Maybe it is our natural aversion to places that have been forsaken and left to rot. Or perhaps it is something more; something even spookier. One abandoned amusement park in West Virginia, in the United States, has such a brutal past and history of misfortune and death that these macabre elements fuse together with its rundown, ragged appearance to make it truly a disturbing place to be. Variously called the “scariest amusement park in the world” and one of America’s most haunted places, the Shawnee Lake amusement park gives us plenty of reasons to continue to fear these ruined sites of long gone happiness.
Located in in Mercer County, West Virginia, United States, just a few miles from Princeton, the area where the abandoned Lake Shawnee amusement park sits has a dark and menacing history. The land was long used by the native Shawnee tribe of the region as a burial ground, which archeologists digging here have estimated holds the bodies of perhaps 3,000 people, but this would not be the extent of the death associated with the place. In 1775, a family of white settlers known as the Clays, consisting of the father Mitchell Clay, his wife Phoebe Belcher Clay, and their three children, Bartley, Tabitha, and Ezekial, moved into the remote area and set up a homestead there right over the burial ground. This perhaps unsurprisingly did not sit well with the local Shawnee people, as it was sacred land, and the Clays, who were among the first white people the tribe had ever come across, had just come in and set up shop right over the buried corpses of their kin.
The tribe, angered by the desecration of their land, repeatedly warned the family to leave, but the Clays defiantly chose to ignore them. In August of 1783, a band of Native tribesmen took matters into their own hands and descended onto the Clay homestead while the father was out hunting. The Natives proceeded to outright slaughter the youngest son, Bartley, as he worked out in the fields and then scalp the corpse. Tabitha was next, as the Shawnee warriors tracked her down and brutally stabbed her to death. The oldest son, Ezekial, was not killed outright, but rather kidnapped, dragged away from his home, and later burned at the stake. When the patriarch of the family returned home to find his children dead, his vengeance was swift, and he gathered together a posse of other settlers to go off to hunt down and murder several of the Shawnee tribespeople in bloody retribution. The Clay massacre would hang over the area like an evil cloud for years after that, with most settlers refusing to go anywhere near it.
It was here to this accursed place of blood, misery, and death that an entrepreneur by the name of Conley T. Snidow came in 1926 to purchase the very land on which the Clay farm had stood. It is unclear whether Snidow did not know about the area’s bloody past or simply did not care, but he thought that the area would make a great place to build an amusement park area in order to entertain the families of the growing number of coal miners flocking to the region. At first, it was a simple affair, with swing sets, a Ferris wheel, and a pond for swimming, but the operation would gradually expand, adding a dance hall, concessions stands, and a swimming pool, and by the 1950s there were many other attractions such as motorized rides, bumper cars, a roller coaster, and paddle boats for the pond. For all appearances it was a great place to spend a fun day with the family, with the patrons blissfully unaware of the gruesome history and corpse riddled ground atop which all this was taking place. Yet, tragedy would cast a shadow on all of the fun and games, and would prove that the land perhaps still had a taste for death.
In the 1950s, the first death at the park would occur when a young girl on the park’s circular swing was killed when a truck backed into the path of the fast moving swing and she was smashed against it. In 1966, the park would claim another young life when an 11-year-old boy drowned in the park’s pond after getting his arm caught in a drainage pipe. The boy was considered to be missing until the body was found over a week later in the murky water. Although these were the most high profile deaths associated with the park, there were others as well, such as a man who is said to have jumped from the top of the Ferris wheel, and according to the current owner there were 6 tragic deaths in the park during its years of operation. In 1966, after the drowning death of the boy, the Shawnee Lake amusement park was closed for good, and its rides and attractions left to fall into disrepair and rot away.
The park would sit abandoned, the rusty derelict remains of its rides poking through overgrown weeds and vegetation like the skeletal remains of some ancient beasts, until 1985, when a man named Gaylord White purchased the land and reopened the park. However, perhaps due to its history of death and freak accidents, the amusement park failed to draw enough visitors to remain open and it was closed down just three years later. It would later be turned into a fishing lake and campground, as well as a decidedly creepy place full of the park’s ruins and unsurprisingly stories of ghosts.
Considering its spooky past and history of tragedy and death, the grounds of the former Shawnee Lake amusement park seem like a perfect location for hauntings, and it does not disappoint. Some of the general phenomena associated with the abandoned park are the eerie feeling of being watched or followed, sudden panic attacks or heavy feelings of dread, the feeling of disembodied hands on shoulders, being pushed or tapped by an unseen force, objects moving on their own, as well as the sighting of shadowy shapes lurking among the deteriorating rides, the swings creaking back and forth in the absence of wind, flitting orbs of light, and small, children sized apparitions dashing among the rusted hulks of long forgotten rides and overgrown weeds, and even the spectral ghosts of Native Americans skulking about in the darkness. There are also numerous anomalous sounds that are reportedly frequently heard here, including the laughter of children when no one is there, disembodied whispers that often seem to come from directly behind, shouts, strange chanting in perhaps a Native American language, and even screams. Numerous people who have taken photos of the desolate park have been shocked to find later that their photos harbor images of ghostly figures or inexplicable shadow apparitions.
There have been many alleged EVP phenomena recorded here as well. Polly Gear, of Mountaineer Ghosts, has recorded a variety of such chilling recordings. In one instance, after knocking on the side of an abandoned trailer, a gruff, male voice was recorded which seems to say “Please leave.” In another EVP recording taken between the Ferris wheel and the swings, two friends are talking. One says “No,” followed by mumbling from the other, and then a shockingly clear high pitched ghostly EVP voice, perhaps of a young girl, which says “Won’t talk.” In the same location, yet another EVP features the voice of a young girl which sounds like it is saying either “I wanna swing,” or “I’m on a swing.”
The swings, in fact, are one of the most notoriously haunted places in the park. Visitors report seeing one of the swings creak back and forth by itself or twist around on its chains, or of feeling sudden chills or patches of cold there. There are also the persistent sightings of a ghostly young girl in a ruffled pink dress stained with blood, either riding on the swing or standing in its immediate vicinity, which is thought to be the spirit of the girl which was killed by the truck in the 50s. According to the park’s current owner, the girl who died had indeed been wearing a pink dress, and he has claimed to have seen the ghost himself on several occasions, claiming that he was unable to move when she locked eyes with him. He also recounted some of the strange sensations associated with the swing in a talk with the Travel Channel, saying:
Sometimes the seat will start to move or sway underneath your hand until you feel cold air blowing through the seat. And when you get to the middle you feel something warm. And we believe that’s her spirit.
There are other areas of the park to which paranormal activity seem to gravitate as well. People have reported seeing a shadowy figure sitting in one of the rusted out seats of the Ferris wheel, particularly the one eternally locked in the 9 o’clock position, or even a ghostly apparition jumping from the top of the decrepit, precarious structure only to vanish. It could be the ghost of the man who purportedly jumped to his death here, or it could be just the play of light on the invading vegetation clinging to the ride and the skeletal dilapidated metal structure. Another supposedly haunted area of the park is the pond, now a mostly drained, murky pool of muddy water mostly used by catfish fishermen, where there have been reports of shadowy figures cruising below the surface, as well as strange waves and ripples, and some who have entered the water here have claimed that something seems to try to pull them under and hold them down. The desolate, empty concession stands are also known for the haunting apparitions of what appear to be Native Americans, which aimlessly wander around here for no discernible reason, with no hint as to why they would want to gather at this place.
This reputation for the unexplained, as well as the decidedly creepy atmosphere pervading this place, has made the Shawnee Lake amusement park popular with people looking for a glimpse of the supernatural or macabre, and it has been a prime destination for paranormal investigators and ghost hunters. The Park has been the focus of many paranormal TV programs, including ABC’s Scariest Places on Earth, Discovery Channels Ghost Lab, Travel Channel’s The Most Terrifying Places in America, ABC Family’s The Ten Most Curious Places in the World, and National Geographic Channel’s The Watch. Some of these shows have had what they claim to be genuine brushes with sinister supernatural forces from beyond. During the 2005 filming of the park’s Scariest Places on Earth episode, the crew refused to enter the premises at night because they claimed to hear the sound of chanting and drums, and because they sensed that the spiritual energy was intimidatingly strong there, also complaining of potent feelings of doom and dread. In the show Ghost Lab, one of the crew was inexplicably trapped within an old ticket booth and could not get out, despite the lack of any locks on the door. Of course this is paranormal reality TV, so it is in their best interests to crank up the spooky factor, but they seem to be curious cases nevertheless.
Although the general area is open for fishing or camping, the actual amusement park proper now keeps its doors locked throughout most of the year, mostly due to the potential safety hazards posed by the rotting, jagged equipment and unsteady footing in the out of control underbrush and foliage. Nowadays, the park has capitalized on its ghostly reputation, and offers open tours of the facilities to the brave every year from Oct. 25 to Oct. 31 for an event called Dark Carnival, featuring ghost tours and even a haunted house, which is fitting since the mysterious Shawnee Park amusement park certainly seems to fit in with Halloween. Visitors on this tour are shown around the crumbling structures and taken to all of the major haunted locations within, such as at the Ferris wheel, pond, and circular swings. If you do not want to try an actual tour, the surrounding area is open to camping, although knowing the dark reputation of the looming ruins of the amusement park poking through the trees beyond must make staying out in these woods an unnerving experience to say the least.
If abandoned places are creepy, then abandoned amusement parks have to be even creepier, and haunted abandoned amusement parks with a history of death and freak accidents just about as creepy as it gets. Whether there are any real ghosts here or not, there is an undeniable feeling of forlornness, desolation, and bleak dread hanging like a mist through the air here. It is almost as if it is collecting a balance of fear for every smile of a child that walked through its now rusty, time worn gates. Is this feeling of dread and the tendency to see ghosts in such locations just illusions and tall tales projected by our seemingly natural aversion and morbid curiosity in the cast away, unneeded places of the world? Or are some of these places truly inhabited or influenced by forces beyond our understanding? Perhaps the answer can be found somehow by taking a night time stroll through the empty husk of what was once Shawnee Lake amusement park. If you dare.